Those who knew me from my past would never imagine the man I am today. I was an angry and bitter kid who became a manipulative, deceitful man.
I cared about one thing in life—me. Years of poverty and abuse from my then alcoholic father had hardened my heart. I’ll spare the details, as I imagine many reading this magazine, maybe even you, have experienced a similar childhood. Many of you know the pain of not having a father who loves you the way God intends. It leaves a legacy of brokenness and despair if not dealt with properly.
Thank goodness for Momma. She loved my siblings and me and did her best to protect and provide for us. She often shared with us the importance of accepting Jesus as our Savior. I didn’t want to hear about God back then, but her seeds of faith later sprouted in my heart and saved my life.
That happened when I was in the county jail, strapped to a hospital bed. A drug deal had gone bad, and a seventeen-year-old boy was dead. The authorities had apprehended me, but not before I’d sustained four gunshot wounds myself. It’s only by God’s mercy that I am alive.
Lying on that bed, bleeding, I began to think about my life. It didn’t take a genius to realize that my future was bleak, and I didn’t have anyone to blame but myself. My own pride and anger had put me here.
I was losing hope as fast as I was losing blood, until God’s mercy met me. I suddenly remembered my mother’s words about Jesus. She had told me that the Bible said Jesus could forgive the worst of sinners for all their sins. All I had to do was confess my sins to Him and ask Him to come into my life (1 John 1:9).
I began to sob. I couldn’t imagine being forgiven for all the things I’d done, but I dared to ask Him anyway. I knew His forgiveness was my only hope. So, right there on that hospital bed in an Illinois jail, I opened my heart to the only One who could save me. I accepted Jesus Christ as my Lord and Savior, and from that moment on, I was a new man.
Of course, that didn’t mean everything magically became perfect in my life. Although faith in Jesus undoes the consequence of eternal separation from God (Romans 6:23), it doesn’t necessarily undo earthly consequences. I had made many sinful choices in my 21 years, including killing someone. I would have to pay for my actions.
I can still remember, however, hoping for mercy when I walked into my sentencing hearing. Perhaps like God, the judge would forgive me and do away with the harsh consequences I deserved. But he didn’t; instead, he sentenced me to 50 years for my crime.
It was the first step in learning that God’s mercy comes in different forms—including incarceration. God knew I needed that time in prison so He could bring healing to my broken heart and equip me for the good works that He had prepared for me to do (Ephesians 2:10). But at that moment, I felt like my life was done.
Fifty years in prison? How would I survive all that time behind bars? I would be an old man by the time I got out! In my mind, it was “game over.”
The judge asked if I had anything to say before they took me away. I was too choked up to respond. Back in the jail, I immediately went to the shower and cried like a baby.
I was overwhelmed. I couldn’t see the truth that no matter how bleak my future seemed, I still had hope. I had forgotten that Jesus, the source of hope, was with me—and He would continue to be with me, even in a maximum-security prison where evil often reigned.
It didn’t help that the guys in jail liked to share about the challenges of prison life. I became more frightened by the day as I awaited my transfer orders. Thankfully, God sent ministers from the outside into the jail to encourage my heart. Those men were a gift from God, lights in the darkness. Their presence, faith, and love did something to the inside of me. God used them to strengthen me for my long prison journey.
Finally, my transfer day came, and I walked through the gates of Menard Correctional Center. I didn’t know what lay ahead, but I had decided that, no matter what, I would live for Jesus. I would trust His love and His plan for me.
God honored my commitment, and over the next 25 years in the Illinois Department of Corrections, He protected and preserved me, both in Menard and, later, in Danville Correctional. Time and time again, He came to my defense and blessed me with His favor, including shortening my time served from 50 to 25 years.
It would be impossible to adequately share the experiences of those years behind bars. What I can do, however, is tell you that God’s mercy sustained me and enabled me to not just make it, but to walk out those doors a transformed man.
He displayed His mercy to me in so many ways. First and foremost, He saved me from eternal damnation. Think about it: God sent me to jail instead of the hell I deserved. His mercy also saved me from a life of despair and destruction here on earth.
For so long, my evil desires had dragged me away from the life God intended. They had carried me down a dark road of death and destruction. I had fully experienced James 1:14–15: “Each person is tempted when they are dragged away by their own evil desire and enticed. Then, after desire has conceived, it gives birth to sin; and sin, when it is full-grown, gives birth to death.”
My life was hard as a child—that’s no joke. But it was my sin, not the sins of my father, that had led me to prison. It was my evil desires that gave birth to sin and led to death. I thank God for His mercy that stopped me in my tracks and put me on a new path of hope.
Every time I think of what God has done for me, I am humbled. God actually thought that I was worthy to be saved. Me! Like Paul in the Bible, I was a chief of sinners (1 Timothy 1:15). But that’s exactly who God sent His Son, Jesus, to save. Luke 19:10 NIV says, “The Son of Man came to seek and to save the lost.” Jesus came to save people like me, people the world thought would never amount to anything.
Mercy came in other forms too. God put an insatiable desire for His living Word (the Bible) into my heart. As I devoured it daily, it sustained me. He also placed believers around me to help me stand firm in my faith. This circle of godly men helped break deadly cycles and brought me to a place of forgiveness for others and myself. Circles break cycles.
Manny Mill and representatives of his ministry, Koinonia House, made a significant impact on my life. Not only did they disciple me in God’s Word behind bars, but Manny himself met me at the gate when I was released from Danville prison in 2014. His ministry provided housing, bought me clothes, and paid my rent for several months. I wouldn’t have made it without their support.
Today, believe it or not, I serve on the board of Koinonia House National Ministry. Not only that, I am married to a beautiful and godly woman. I own a successful HVAC company, and I am the campus pastor at Stateville Correctional Center. It’s the first church plant behind prison bars in the state of Illinois. I get to give incarcerated men the same thing God gave me—hope, inspiration, purpose, and identity.
I could have easily fallen into a victim mentality and become bitter over my life circumstances. I could have held a grudge against my father and sought revenge. I could have embraced self-hatred and shame for what I had done in my past.
But because of God’s mercy, I was able to forgive my father, other people who had hurt me, and even myself. How can I hold a grudge against anyone when I think about what God did for me? And because I chose to be merciful, God has restored my relationship with my father. God’s mercy has genuinely made us new men (2 Corinthians 5:17).
Have you encountered God’s mercy? It’s waiting for you right now. Lamentations 3:22–23 promises: “The faithful love of the Lord never ends! His mercies never cease. Great is his faithfulness; his mercies begin afresh each morning” (NLT).
Maybe you gave your life to Jesus somewhere in the past, but your desires have dragged you down the road of death. Even so, my friend— that’s not the end! According to Lamentations 3:22–23, God’s mercy is still there for you. It never ceases; it’s new every morning. If you are still breathing, if you saw the sun come up this morning, then you still have the hope of God’s mercy.
All you have to do is ask. No matter how far your evil desires have dragged you, it’s never too late for His mercy to put your life back on track so you can finish where He intended. Your failures are never greater than God’s call on your life. All you have to do is ask for forgiveness and commit to moving forward with Him, in His way this time.
I have known many people who have felt like their lives are over. Maybe you feel that way too. Perhaps you’ve received a lengthy prison sentence or you’re facing a divorce or a health crisis. Maybe you’ve lost your job or your kids are out of control.
Can I just tell you, God still has a purpose for you? It’s true. It’s never “game over” when you trust your life to the hands of a merciful God.
Be strong and courageous and keep fighting the good fight of faith (2 Timothy 4:7).
Trust that the God who knows you and loves you will not fail you. He who has begun a good work in you will bring it to completion (Philippians 1:6).
His faithful mercies will never cease! Even when you fail Him, His mercy will not fail you.